Cheltenham Festival Preview - Day Two
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Cheltenham Festival Preview - Day Two

The second afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival will be headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase - heavily billed as 'Shishkin vs. Energumene II - The Sequel'. They served up a blockbuster at Ascot in January and a fascinating rematch is in store here, only this time with a strong supporting cast in the wings hoping to steal the show. We'll also see Tiger Roll grace the racecourse for the final time in his stunning career, seeking a record-equalling sixth Festival success. They race from 1.30pm -5.30pm on Wednesday - with the Champion Chase due off at 3.30pm. The Racing Post brings you their preview and selections for all the day two action at Cheltenham.

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1.30pm - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)

Tuesday's Supreme Novices' Hurdle will offer some major clues as to where the balance of power lies between the British an Irish novices but, even before seeing that, SIR GERHARD can't be opposed here.

Last year's Champion Bumper winner has won both hurdles starts around Leopardstown in ready fashion. At the Dublin Racing Festival last time, his technique wasn't entirely fluent, and yet he left a Grade 1 field trailing in his wake.

He should get a pace to aim at here and he's been strong at the backend of his races to this point, so the step up in distance to 2m5f looks set to be no problem for him. Willie Mullins elected to swerve the Tuesday opener in favour of what is perceived a 'softer touch' in this contest and he's likely to be rewarded with a fifth win since 2008.

He isn't the only unbeaten hurdler in the mix. Stage Star has won 3-3 for Paul Nicholls including the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury in December, though that contest has a poor record in terms of providing same-season Festival scorers. Harry Cobden's mount has scope for better things but needs to improve to take down the market leader.

Bob Olinger took this last year for Henry De Bromhead, Rachael Blackmore and owners Robcour and they team up now with Journey With Me. He's won all three under Rules, including defeating Minella Crooner and Kilcruit first time out, and is progressing nicely ahead of this stern examination.

Gordon Elliott's Three Stripe Life is twice a runner-up in Grade 1s, behind Sir Gerhard most recently, and looks rock-solid, while I Am Maximus (Nicky Henderson) and Whatdeawant (Mullins) could be a pair to threaten the places terms at decent prices.

Selection: Sir Gerhard

Next Best: Stage Star

 

2.10pm - Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

What a massive hour in store for Britain's champion trainer Paul Nicholls to kick-start day two. The Ditcheat handler has admitted he's bringing his smallest team ever to Cheltenham and in Stage Star and BRAVEMANSGAME, he fires his two main bullets in back-to-back Grade 1s here.

Nicholls has always talked about Bravemansgame in the highest of terms. He sees him as a King George winner in waiting come Christmas time and the early comparisons with Denman made clear the belief he has in this horse.

He finishing effort in the Ballymore last season was a little underwhelming but he has looked a far superior chaser compared to his hurdles efforts. His fencing is a joy to behold and he picked off todays rival Ahoy Senor at will when winning the Grade 1 Kauto Star on Boxing Day.

His campaign has been far from textbook as Nicholls took a brave route to this point, last month's Newbury handicap win saw him conceding more than a stone to some promising rivals and beating them handily. He looks the real deal and can cast aside any worries over this track no suiting him.

Gaillard Du Mesnil was in front of Bravemansgame here last March but looks to have been bypassed by him since they went chasing, so stablemate Capodanno may be Willie Mullins' best hope here.

Lucinda Russell's Ahoy Senor was swatted away at Kempton in December by the selection but has won a Wetherby Grade 2 in good style since and many believe this track will tilt things towards him in his rematch with Bravemansgame.

Farouk D'alene, Fury Road (both Gordon Elliott) and Beacon Edge (Noel Meade) give Gigginstown House a strong representation, while Nicholls' second string, Threeunderthrufive, has been mopping up wins in small fields - including Grade 2s at Doncaster and Warwick - but may just find the increased tempo here catches him out.

If things are to go awry for Bravemansgame, it's surely is L'homme Presse for Venetia Williams that will foil him.

He's got a hugely progressive profile, winning all four starts over fences including The Dipper (2m4½f) here on New Year's Day where he made all in fine style. He's added the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown since and exhibits plenty clues that stepping up in trip will suit him.

Connections wisely came here rather than waiting for the St Patrick's Day showdown between Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs a day later in the Turners. His jumping last time was better, but previously there was a tendency to make an odd error. So far, Bravemansgame doesn't appear to know what an error is. His ability to make ground in the air could sway this.

Selection: Bravemansgame

Next Best: L'homme Presse



2.50pm - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m5f)

Probably the toughest handicap to sort at The Festival. Good Risk At All is first reserve and of major interest if he gets in for trainer Sam Thomas. His Ascot win last month suggests he's well ahead of the assessor. Though a run in Friday's Martin Pipe might suit him better, he'd be the call if getting a run.

Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliott have won this six times since 2010 between them. The former relies solely on Call Me Lord, a well-handicapped horse these days but without a win since 2019.

Not surprisingly, Elliott goes with safety in number and his SEVEN could serve a good little race on their own! Lightly-raced Saint Felicien was turned over in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad at Naas in January by a smart performer in Darasso. He lacks big-field experience but has the excellent Robbie Power to aid him and a mark of 149 could be manageable.

McFabulous should find this trip ideal and is a proven performer at graded level for Paul Nicholls, he could be an each-way sort in first-time cheekpieces.

GOWEL ROAD gave a stone to Unexpected Party when they were first and second over C&D in November. Dan Skelton's charge is up 12lb for an Ascot win in January and so it's the former that's taken to hold sway again for locally-based trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies as that November form is strong.

Most recently, Gowel Road was a good second behind Metier at Lingfield's Winter Millions Festival in January over two-miles and, returned to this distance, he's got excellent credentials.

Selection: Gowel Road

Next Best: Saint Felicien

 

3.30pm - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

The big guns have made it and this could easily be the race of the entire week now. Shishkin vs. Energumene II it certainly is, but this isn't a simple duel.

The last two winner's line up - Politologue and Put The Kettle On - while last year's second and third Nube Negra and Chacun Pour Soi return and Envoi Allen - the great white hope of 12 months ago - is almost an afterthought. Last month's Game Spirit winner Funambule Sivola completes the dead-eight and give punters that all import third each-way place to work with.

The top three on ratings are SHISHKIN (177), Chacun Pour Soi (176) and Energumene (175) and they head the betting.

Chacun Pour Soi goes through races like a machine at his best, but his finishing effort has never really convinced. He didn't come up the Cheltenham hill last March when the race was there for him. He's now a 10YO, this is a stronger race and Paul Townend has deserted him. As brilliant as he can be, things are stacked against him - though what a story it would be it Patrick Mullins could steer him to glory in what is only piece of the Cheltenham jigsaw missing for his father.

Townend, despite declaring his love for Chacun last month, sticks with Energumene for another crack at unbeaten chaser Shishkin.

January's Clarence House Chase at Ascot was easily the best race of the season so far as this pair served up a firecracker and we can only but hope they do it again. Energumene, as is his wont, was the hare that day and set a fast pace in front. Pretty much everything went to plan and, mid-race, Shishkin even nodded on landing at the sixth fence as he looked in some trouble.

Nice de Boinville's partner was off the bridle three fences from home, but Shishkin loves a battle and he stayed in the scrap over the last, still two-lengths down, before overpowering Energumene close to the line. For the runner-up, it really did look a prime case of: 'What more can you do?'

Shishkin is just a brilliant racehorse with the heart of a warrior. They go left-handed this time and that suits him. This race is a furlong shorter, but the stiff Cheltenham hill will give the Nicky Henderson inmate plenty time to wear down anything. He's seeking to go 3-3 at this meeting, whereas Energumene has never run here before. It should be an absolutely brilliant contest. Only a length split them last time, so it's far from forlorn to think it can be turned around - one poor jump could tilt it by three-lengths.

Try as they will, Townend and Energumene might be left with a familiar feeling post-race. What more can you do.

The others do appear to be playing minor supporting roles in the blockbuster remake.

Put The Kettle On has only been beaten once in five visits to this track, that was by Nube Negra in November's Shloer Chase and the Dan Skelton hold-up performer might be the one to come late and get a piece of the action. It would be great, too, if Envoi Allen put in a performance and he did win a Grade 1 last time out in Ireland so all is not lost.

Selection: Shishkin

Next Best: Energumene



4.10pm - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (3m6f)

The previous race is rightly billed as blockbuster but there's no doubting that TIGER ROLL is the horse with most potential for a Hollywood movie about his career. The final credits will air after this latest attempt to win on this holy ground.

Eight years on since his Triumph Hurdle win, Tiger Roll has enjoyed a remarkable career that spawned two Grand Nationals at Aintree, four more wins at this meeting and countless column inches as a result of Michael O'Leary's 'poor me' acts of more recent times.

He has won the Cross Country three times in four years, and was second in 2020. His form this season in races that ultimately were futile for him hasn't been great, but it was similar last year before he thrashed his rivals here. Gordon Elliott has been thrilled with his recent work and if he's anywhere near his levels of 12 months ago, he can achieve a record-equalling sixth Festival win.

Prengarde has been winning these sorts of races in France and is now with Cross County maestro Enda Bolger, he's resected but, rather like 2020 winner Easysland, his prep has not been inspiring.

The other Bolger runner, Shady Operator, has solid credentials, while Elliot's Delta Work is a Grade 1 winner at his best and a danger if he takes to this quirky test.

Brahma Bull runs for Willie Mullins in the Ricci silks and could definitely go well if adapting to the Cross Country challenge. How ironic if the Closutton maestro was to spoil Tiger Roll's farewell on this grand stage.

Selection: Tiger Roll

Next Best: Brahma Bull

 

4.50pm - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)

A fast and furious test awaits. Sky Pirate won this 12 months ago and is only 4lb higher now, though he's got top-weight to defy. He's run well in good company this season and a big effort won't come as a shock.

Buddy Rich was second behind Third Time Lucki here in October, a good effort, and the subsequent Navan winner has been well-touted for this contest. The handicapper hasn't missed him and a mark of 144 looks high enough, even allowing for the likely improvement.

Andy Dufresne, Dancing On My Own and Amarillo Sky are possible players, while For Pleasure is one that might have got in light off 138 and is a big price accordingly.

THYME WHITE was last spotted scoring at Doncaster over Christmas and Paul Nicholls seemingly put him away afterwards with this race in mind. He's got scope to improve again over fences and should relish the fast pace this race is normally run at. Bryony Frost was on board for the first time in the Town Moor win in December and she's rewarded in keeping the seat today. They are solid contenders in a race Nicholls has won twice since 2016 and a record four times overall.

Selection: Thyme White

Next Best: For Pleasure



5.30pm - Weatherbys Champion Bumper (2m½f)

If showdowns are your thing, the Champion Bumper looks well set up for just that.

Shishkin vs. Energumene is the headline act but, arguably, Facile Vega vs. American Mike is every bit as intriguing.

Irish powerhouse Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are the best-versed trainers in the lands when it comes to bumper talent and they both feel they have 'the one' for this.

American Mike established himself at the front of the market with wins at Down Royal and Navan in October and December, good efforts on the clock and form held up since.

On St Stephen's Day however FACILE VEGA announced himself with a classy display at Leopardstown. Patrick Mullins had signalled ahead of the Christmas Festival that this son of Cheltenham icon Quevega was going to be one to watch and so it proved.

From there he went to the Dublin Racing Festival where he obliterated a host of previous winners with a spine-tingling turn of foot in the home straight. It was an effort the experienced horse-watcher Ted Walsh labelled 'the best bumper performance' he'd ever seen and Willie Mullins also seemed taken aback by its brilliance.

Elliott sounds confident that American Mile can turn over Facile Vega but it's worth recalling similar soundbites emerged ahead of Itswhatunitesus taking him on last month and he was beaten some 20-lengths at Leopardstown.

American Mike is a classy sort and not underestimated, but Facile Vega could be quite something.

A field of 22 were declared and it's brimming with talent, as befits the Champion Bumper.

Mullins has won this 11 times and it's not uncommon to see his second/third/fourth string going well. Redemption Day is another huge talent, 250,000 gns purchase Madmansgame won first time out at Navan last month and is a chunky price here.

Rachael Blackmore won this race last year for Mullins and rides Houlanbatordechais here. He's a dual winner in France and debuts now for the Closutton team.

There's so much potential in the race, which surely will be dominated by Ireland, that it could be dangerous to reduce it to a duel.

Selection: Facile Vega

Next Best: Madmansgame

 

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